FIGURES showing a rise in sex crimes against children in Oxfordshire are just the tip of the iceberg, according to the boss of an abuse support charity.

Marilyn Hawes has called on the authorities to ask themselves “whether they have the spine” to deal with the problem.

The chief executive of Enough Abuse UK told the Oxford Mail more education was needed to “spot the signs” of child abuse or the number of sex crimes would continue to rise.

Her comments came after figures from the NSPCC revealed sex abuse against children in the county has rocketed by more than 50 per cent in the past year.

The largest increase was the number of reports of sexual activity with a child, which went up from 64 in 2014/15 to 107 in 2015/16.

Ms Hawes said the increase in numbers was due to more reporting, but added legal and support systems were making victims “fall down the gap”.

She added: “It’s still just the tip of the iceberg. They are just figures, why has there been no improvement?

“It’s brilliant coming out with their figures but what about preventing it and stopping it?

“It’s all very well having these numbers, but the lack of education to spot the signs and prevent this happening is still alarming.

“There is more education in preventing this rather. You have to ask yourself whether you have got the spine to hear it, to see it or deal with it. If not you should do another job.”

In total the number of sex offences against children in the county rose form 221 to 343 in the past year, according the NSPCC.

The number of girls under the age of 13 raped increased from 16 to 28, with the number under 16 rising from 49 to 91.

The NSPCC – which campaigns for action on child abuse – said the Bullfinch scandal had “rocked Oxford and the wider community to the core” but that authorities were now working together more effectively after a report in May said steps had been taken to tackle child sexual exploitation.

Ms Hawes added more people were coming forward to report crimes due to “losing the feeling of shame”.

She added: “The sad thing is, despite more people reporting it there has been no change in the support for mental health and social service systems.

“I’m not saying they have not put improvements in place, but more education is needed.”

An NSPCC spokesman said the figures made grim reading for the county.

He added: “Recent investigations have exposed a dark underbelly of abuse that went on for far too long with the impact only now becoming tragically clear.

Oxfordshire County Council cabinet member for children’s service Melinda Tilley said she thought the rise could be down to more people coming forward.

She added: “We work closely with schools, children centres and police to spot the signs.

“It needs clamping down and these people need to be caught and put away.”

Thames Valley Police refused to answer the Oxford Mail’s questions yesterday.